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Inverse stopped clock

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Not to be confused with a Stopped clock moment.
Genius is no guarantee against being dead wrong.
Carl Sagan
A gris-gris is a voodoo amulet, something you carry or wear to bring good luck and ward off bad vibes. We have a saying around Bullshit: Everybody got a gris-gris. What we mean by that is everyone believes in some crazy thing they just can't quite give up yet.
Penn Jillette

An inverse stopped clock refers to a situation in which someone who is usually logical, rational, or correct does or believes something idiotic or crazy. Also referred to as “A running clock is only guaranteed to be correct that time is passing”, "Sometimes even geniuses make mistakes", "Even Homer sometimes nods", or the common phrase "Nobody's perfect."


Due to the imperfect nature of human beings, even reasonable people — including people widely respected for being reasonable — will make a mistake every now and then, often by chance alone. Perhaps something cranky (e.g. a conspiracy theory) appeals to someone's ideology and they go with it, even if they're usually correct on other subjects. Other times they may panic and do something stupid in response to a sometimes exaggerated threat or situation. The difference between these people and other cranks is that they are usually not crazy, but every time an inverse stopped clock situation takes place their reputation becomes slightly more soiled. (The degree of stupidity also makes a difference, and if the moment is crazy enough they may never be able to live it down, with everything they say being up for question after the incident.)

It should be noted that dismissing everything a reasonable person has accomplished or believes in simply because of one or two crank beliefs, silly superstitions or terrible behaviors can be seen as an invocation of the Nirvana fallacy.

The most dangerous part of the inversed stopped clock is that the crankery supported may be given much more weight than if it was supported by a known nutjob, due to the usually decent/sane reputation of the person promoting it. The opposite could also happen, and the person's one crank belief will become, again, mainly what they are known for, leaving the rest of their work marginalized by association. An example of the latter is Peter Duesberg and his HIV denialism.

A bit more cynical explanation is that everyone has a "need" to be powerful; this is the "pride" that is a "mortal sin". Ideally this is done by actually having major accomplishments, such as establishing a business or completing a degree. In many cases, this desire can be filled by hyping up the importance of your own hobbies or adopting "enlightened" worldviews. In fringe cases, this is done through buying into conspiracy theories or crank views, the "cheat codes" to knowledge. The person that "knows" that some dissolved silver cures AIDS is "smarter" than you or I. And while most of the people on this list do indeed have major accomplishments, they still feel the need to enhance their own superiority, and it's often easier to adopt the conspirational thinking or crank ideologies than it is to actually do something else important.





  • Canada for its seal hunting in the Gulf of St Lawrence, which is regarded by many as cruel as well as ecologically and economically unsustainable.[19]
  • Noam Chomsky for supporting Hugo Chávez's regime (though, as of now, Chomsky has since changed his mind)[20], and for downplaying the atrocities at the hands of the Khmer Rouge[21][22] and Slobodan Milošević[23] to a degree bordering on outright apologia.
  • Andrew CuomoWikipedia, governor of New York, who was hailed by media outlets for his response to the 2019-20 COVID-19 outbreak...while also simultaneously cutting MedicaidWikipedia funding in the middle of the pandemic.[24]
  • Lee CampWikipedia: While his take-downs of Fox News and corporate money in politics is excellent, Camp has promoted the work of the crank Peter Joseph of Zeitgeist fame, defended RT as being not as bad as corporate media, and is an apologist for the Venezuelan government.


  • Richard Dawkins making outlandish statements on gender,[25] rape,[26] Islam[27][28] and even apologizing for pedophilia (though squarely in the context of recounting his own, personal experience with being molested).[29] See our article for the full run-down.
  • Charles Darwin opposed eugenics and Social Darwinism for ethical reasons, but he himself believed that his own theory of evolution meant that eugenics and Social Darwinism were the solution to the then current world problems and wrote many paragraphs in On The Origin Of Species and The Descent of Man that sound like he had outright endorsed the measures,[30] which is how it was so easy for social Darwinists and creationists to misquote him.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Creator of Sherlock Holmes, human rights activist,[31] and dogmatic believer in spiritualism.[32]
  • Freeman Dyson, a top-tier mathematical physicist best known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, and a global warming denier.[33]


  • Dwight Eisenhower launched Operation Wetback, a shameful initiative to remove (often violently) thousands of undocumented workers. In what has been described as a "quasi-military operation", border patrol agents, along with state and local law enforcement methodically targeted Mexican-Americans. The result was widespread fear and abuse along with the birth of a derogatory slur.[34] He also banned gay people from federal employment and military service[35] and shoehorned "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance.[36]
  • Eugenicists: many reasonable people, including Margaret Sanger, backed eugenics in the early 20th century. This is despite the fact eugenics was horribly racist even for the standards of its day (doctors in the 1920s debunked it easily and said race and skull shape have no correlation) and the role it played in inspiring Hitler.[37]




  • Sam Harris supporting racial profiling,[56] general apologia for Israel,[57] and endorsement of The Bell Curve.[58] [better source needed]
  • Steven Hassan's support for JK Rowling's TERF rhetoric. [59]
  • Martin Heidegger enthusiastically supporting Nazism and Hitler in 1933, and enforcing the Nazi racial laws at the University of Freiburg.[60] A collection titled Black NotebooksWikipedia also reveals that he was a rabid anti-semite.
  • Edward S. HermanWikipedia, economist, media expert, progressive campaigner, and co-author of Manufacturing Consent was a Bosnian genocide denialist, claiming mainstream estimates of deaths were a factor of 10 too high.[61]
  • Christopher Hitchens was pro-life[62][63] (however, he was opposed to overturning of Roe v. Wade,[64] and voiced support for a legal right to choose despite his personal misgivings with abortion in a 1991 interview in Mother Jones[65]) and supported the Iraq War.[66]
  • HoaxWiki is so radically in favor of nuclear energy that even being remotely anti-nuclear is enough reason for the sysops to label you as a crank. It should be noted however that the wiki is generally supportive of alternative energy as it has called out the wind turbine syndrome for the bullshit it is and it is mainly coal and oil energy that it opposes.
  • Although the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) currently supports trans rights quite consistently and many trans people are members of it, it tried to pass an LGB rights bill after removing trans rights to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed in 2007 (even though Bush would have vetoed even that).[67] As a result of this, many trans people, especially on the more militant (anarchist-leaning) wing of the LGBTQ rights movements, still loathe the HRC today.
  • Thom Hartmann supports anti-vaxxers and other anti-science woo. He's also a 9/11 truther.


  • Lyndon B. Johnson, despite making extraordinary steps for racial equality, is generally not considered a great President due to his massive escalation the Vietnam War. He was also a closeted racist, despite helping to pass the Civil Rights Act.
  • Thomas Jefferson, Who wrote blistering attacks on slavery and the Atlantic slave trade, seemed to foresee that slavery would rip the country asunder, and yet, owned slaves.



  • Abraham Lincoln has made statements that are considered unambiguously racist today,[73] yet were nuanced by his time's standard. For comparison, Jefferson Davis was a man who was proud of slavery and racist even for the time as he believed racial slavery made white people equal.[74] However, it is very likely that he only did this to claim the votes of moderates and wingnuts, as this changed drastically to equality for blacks when he became President. Even if this was not the case, Lincoln's views shifted even more in his last years and he personally invited the first ever free black man to the White House: Frederick Douglass.[73]



  • Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist in the mid-19th century who opposed slavery and the Chinese Exclusion Act, attacked corrupt political bosses… and was vehemently racist against the Irish, as well as rabidly anti-Catholic.[86]
  • Isaac Newton, one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians ever, believed that alchemy was a proper branch of science, which was a horribly outdated idea even at the time he died.[87]
  • The New York Times swallowed a story by anti-GMO quack front group "US Right to Know" hook, line, and sinker.[88] It initially supported the Iraq War in 2003, but thankfully they posted an apology about it a year later.[89]
  • Norway for its unsustainable whaling, made worse by the fact that there isn't a market for whale at all in Norway.[90] Heck, even Japan doesn't want it.[91] Norway has also been criticized by the international community for its discrimination against indigenous minorities, namely the Sámi, although there have been recent efforts to set things right.[92]


  • Barack Obama expanded the use of drone attacks, often with civilian collateral damage. He also tried to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership despite majority support from Republicans and majority opposition from his party.
  • John Oliver, a popular British comedian and talk show host, had a (comically) scathing segment on his comedy news show Last Week Tonight lambasting the euthanization of a lion in a Danish zoo, and its subsequent public dissection in front of schoolchildren.[93] Unfortunately, he missed the nuance of the situation entirely, as the lion in question had been dead for months without protest, the original reason for the lion's euthanization was the high risk of inbreeding and efforts to find her a new home had failed.[94] Also, in an episode about the Border Patrol, he criticized them for failing to administer polygraph tests to all new applicants in recent hiring surges, seemingly unaware of how scientifically unreliable they are (though, to be fair, it was a relatively minor point).[95]
  • George Orwell, despite his highly influential critique of totalitarianism on both left and right, was prejudiced against Jews, as well as Catholics, especially in his earlier writings.[96][97]



  • James Randi, for overtly endorsing eugenics and social Darwinism. No kidding; tragic but true.[105]
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt for the creation of internment camps for Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans during WWII. He also turned down the Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. LouisWikipedia seeking asylum, and tried to pack the Supreme Court.
  • Danica RoemWikipedia pushed a bill for applied behavior analysis (ABA) for autistic children to be compulsory at schools. When autistic and ally activists spoke out about the epidemic of abuse in ABA, she responded by calling their behavior inappropriate and saying they should set up an in-person meeting.[106] (Despite the fact that this could be a barrier to many autistic people, who may be socially awkward/anxious and may lack the resources for transportation.)
  • Theodore Roosevelt was very racist and sexist even for his time and a strong supporter of American imperialism.
  • Rousseau's promotion of a strictly patriarchal nuclear family, necessitating wives to submit to their husbands to a degree well beyond the standards of his day.[107] Also he abandoned five of his own children (by his mistress) at an orphanage.[108]
  • J. K. Rowling's repeated trans-exclusionary comments on Twitter.[109]
  • Michael RuppertWikipedia, investigative reporter and whistleblower. In 1996, he famously confronted CIA Director John Deutch in a town hall meeting, stating that in his experience as an LAPD Narcotics detective, he had seen evidence for CIA complicity in drug dealing.[110] His book Crossing the Rubicon hinted at 9/11 collusion, and was often quoted by 9/11 "truthers", but he later turned his focus to peak oil and stated, "I have nothing to do with the 9/11 truth movement."
  • Bertrand Russell's support of conspiracy theories for the JFK Assassination[111] and alternating between refusing to acknowledge and actively defending Viet Cong war crimes when setting up the Russell TribunalWikipedia.
  • Burt RutanWikipedia, famed aerospace engineer and founder of Scaled Composites, whose designs include the Rutan Voyager (the first plane to fly non-stop around the world without refueling) and the SpaceShip series of commercial spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, has expressed (pseudo)skepticism of anthropogenic climate change.[112] He is also a big fan of Saint Ronnie and all-out deregulation, and after the first successful suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne, he suggested that his success must somehow intimidate NASA.


  • Bernie Sanders' debatable record on gun control[113][note 1] and support for GMO labeling[114] and alternative medicine,[115] plus his overreach in claiming that Hillary Clinton wasn't qualified to be president.[116] Also red-baited his own campaign.[117] Heckofajob, Bernie!
  • Opponents rightly tore into Rick Santorum while he sought the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, but a few went beyond the call of duty over the way he and his wife handled their son's death shortly after his premature birth in 1996, where (per the medical advice he received, which was commonplace at the time) they brought home their deceased son.[118]
  • Chuck Schumer's support of Israel is on par with many wingnut Republicans, bordering on being an outright apologist for the country's actions against Palestinians. It has gotten to the point where he has gotten threats from Palestinian activists.[119] In a rare sign of support he praised Donald Trump for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.[120] He also refuses to endorse universal healthcare reforms, such as Medicare for All, which he voted against. His voting record included voting for the Defense of Marriage Act, repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, the Iraq War, the PATRIOT Act and the 2008 Wall Street bailouts. Schumer, however, regretted his vote on DOMA. He has also praised Islamophobic congressman Peter King on Twitter after he retired on November 11, 2019, which attracted criticism from progressive Democrats.[121]
  • Gloria Steinem'sWikipedia early transphobia, though it got better later on.[122]
  • Jon Stewart has a history of ableism. He has raised money for Autism Speaks, a group that publishes ads treating autistic children like monsters or burdens, and he has used the r-word (which refers to people with intellectual disabilities) as an insult.[123] Autistic people have said his comments about autism made them cry.[124] He also defended a racist warm-up comedian.[125] While he has improved somewhat,[126] he has never apologized.
  • Jim SterlingWikipedia: While his Jimquisition is in general a good voice for game developer and consumer rights and gives a wider, more enlightened view on the gaming medium as a whole it should be pointed out that some episodes of the Jimquisition feature rhetoric that is very offensive[127] and also that some episodes seem more like jabs to critics rather than productive content of any kind.[128] It should, however, be noted that Jim's offensive rhetoric has effectively halted in recent memory. It seems he's grown up a bit since the aforementioned comments.
  • Socrates' criticism of reading, saying "[The written word] will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls."[129] He also opposed democracy because politicians of the time weren't concerned with his view on justice.[130] To be fair to him (and many ancient philosophers) Athens, while giving more opportunities for poor people to succeed than Sparta allowed, didn't have a democracy like we know today, as only those who were natural-born citizens had the right to vote and it was very sexist, especially compared to Sparta where women and men in each class had almost equal rights and very similar obligations. It is estimated that less than half the Athenian population participated in its government (women were not permitted to).[131] [132] [133]
  • Sam SederWikipedia: For promoting anti-GMO propaganda.[134]
  • William ShockleyWikipedia, co-inventor man who falsely took credit for the invention of the transistor (without which the computer/smartphone/tablet/games console you're using to read this article probably would not exist), being a racialist and a eugenicist.
  • Sweden, for its draconian drug policy,[citation needed] and for taking a hands-off approach to the COVID-19 epidemic that resulted in significantly higher fatalities than neighboring countries, without any reduction in economic damage.[16]


  • J. R. R. TolkienWikipedia, who was often quite progressive for an upper-class Englishman of his generation—he famously tore Nazi race-doctrine a new one when his German publishers asked him to certify that he was of "Aryan" descent in 1938[135] — voicing support for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.[136]


  • The United Nations are often apologetic of countries that have terrible human rights records, for example, the authoritarian regime of Saudi Arabia. They also have an undemocratic system of governance that lets all the important decisions be ran by five self-appointed member nations of the so-called "Security Council," while the General Assembly has no real power. Their peacekeeping forces are known to have committed war crimes, such as child sex trafficking[137] and sexual assault of underage victims in the Sudan.[138]


  • Willy VandersteenWikipedia would easily be considered to be a very productive author of comic books and quite ahead of its time on many social issues, especially if you compare his work to the US comic book scene, but he also drew an antisemitic comic during World War 2 under a pseudonym.[139] It should however be noted that he also drew antinazist comics under the pseudonym WIL and that he was paid by the Nazis for his antisemitic work, so he is not quite an antisemite.
  • Gore Vidal being a Pearl Harbor[140] and 9/11 truther[141] and responding to a bad book review by blaming the Jews.[142]
  • Voltaire's anti-Semitism, which contrasted in how many contemporaries wanted to free French Jews from the ghettos.[143]
  • Former prime minister Guy VerhofstadtWikipedia, is a well known Belgian and European liberal and Europhile. However, he did as prime minister in 2005, participate in the famous walk De GordelWikipedia which is seen as being provocative to Belgium's Francophone community which makes up 40% of the country.


See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Sudden Moron Syndrome.


  1. To be fair to Bernie, Vermont is not the rest of the United States. Different states have different needs, and while strict gun control makes sense when in a crowded city, it makes less sense in a place where there are more bears than police. In these areas (while not in the US, LongyearbyenWikipedia is one such place) it's sometimes illegal to not be armed for this reason.


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Alien and Sedition Acts.
  2. Past Anti-Masons: John Quincy Adams
  3. John Quincy Adams Once Approved an Expedition to the Center of the Earth Smithsonian Magazine
  4. Buzz Aldrin calls for manned flight to Mars to overcome global problems The Daily Telegraph
  5. [1]
  6. Offenes Schreiben an Herrn Ernst von Weber Verfasser der Schrift Die Folterkammern der Wissenschaft, 1879, R. Wagner, Gesammelte Werke, Leipzig 1888.
  7. Timur Moon. Experts Pour Cold Water on David Attenborough 'Aquatic Ape' Claims International Business Times]
  8. Nick Renaud-Komiya. David Attenborough says sending food to famine-ridden countries is 'barmy' Independent]
  9. A Brief History of Joe Biden and School Busing The New York Times. July 15, 2019.
  10. H.R. 3734 (104th): Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 GovTrack. Jul 23, 1996.
  11. Roll Call Vote 104th Congress - 2nd Session United States Senate. September 10, 1996.
  12. Roll Call Vote 106th Congress - 1st Session United States Senate. November 4, 1999.
  13. Roll Call Vote 107th Congress - 1st Session United States Senate. October 25, 2001.
  14. Roll Call Vote 107th Congress - 2nd Session United States Senate. October 11, 2002.
  15. H.R. 6061 (109th): Secure Fence Act of 2006 GovTrack. Sep 29, 2006.
  16. Call Vote 110th Congress - 2nd Session United States Senate. October 1, 2008.
  17. Bismarck Tried to End Socialism’s Grip—By Offering Government Healthcare. Smithsonian Magazine.
  18. See the Wikipedia article on Otto von Bismarck.
  20. [ Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chávez for 'assault' on democracy
  21. Distortions at Fourth Hand
  22. Noam Chomsky Whitewashes Cambodian Genocide
  24. [2]
  25. Lee, Adam. "Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name" The Guardian.
  26. Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse', The Independent
  27. Several articles on the subject (see Richard Dawkins#Islamophobia for the full run-down), e.g. [3][4][5]
  28. However, despite his Islamophobia, he condemned the murder of three Muslims by a fundamentalist atheist.
  29. Ringo, Allegra. "The Atheist Movement Needs to Disown Richard Dawkins", September 17, 2014.
  31. Supporter of the Congo Reform Association,Wikipedia which exposed gross and rampant abuses of labor and by public servants in the Congo Free State.Wikipedia Jacques Fomerand (18 February 2014). Historical Dictionary of Human Rights. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8108-8035-1. 
  32. See the Wikipedia article on Arthur Conan Doyle § Spiritualism, Freemasonry.
  33. Dyson on global warming, see also A response to Freeman Dyson's "Heretical Thoughts" and In it for the Gold's debunkings
  35. Sears, Brad; Hunter, Nan D.; Mallory, Christy (September 2009). Documenting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in State Employment (PDF). Los Angeles: The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law. p. 5-3.
  36. The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance Smithsonian Magazine. NOVEMBER 2003.
  39. The Agitator / Oriana Fallaci directs her fury toward Islam/ by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 5 June 2006
  40. Flannery denies being an atheist and speaks about his 2010 book and Gaia
  44. [6]
  45. Gandhi & Zionism: ‘The Jews’ (November 26, 1938). Mahatma Gandhi was not totally anti-Semitic. Also, his views on Africans were mostly during his early years when he was affected by the colonial education system. He opposed the inflexible caste system and called the so-called lower caste harijans, or people of God. He only supported the earlier fluid Varna system where a person's worth was determined by the job he did, not his birth. His views on sexuality and other matters would also need better veracity.
  46. [7]
  51. Former senator, engineers offer ‘proof’ of 9/11 controlled demolitions RawStory. 09 Sep 2010.
  52. Network Radio: "Senator Mike Gravel Says 9/11 Inside Job". YouTube. September 11, 2016.
  60. See the Wikipedia article on Martin Heidegger and Nazism.
  61. Left and libertarian right cohabit in the weird world of the genocide belittlers, George Monbiot, The Guardian, Jun 13, 2011
  63. Mindy Belz, "The World According to Hitch", World Magazine
  65. Dennis Perrin, "Hitchens Rehabilitated?", Mother Jones
  68. See our article on him.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Singer, Alan J. "Abraham Lincoln Never Believed in Racial Equality", History News Network
  75. [8]
  76. [9]
  81. By design: James Clerk Maxwell and the evangelical unification of science. Stanley M. Br J Hist Sci. 2012 Mar;45(164 Pt 1):57-73.
  83. Wigger, Iris. The “Black Horror on the Rhine”: Intersections of Race, Nation, Gender and Class in 1920s Germany. London: Macmillan, 2017
  84. (see Citizens, speak TurkishWikipedia)
  85. The Liberal Republican PartyWikipedia to be exact
  86. Editorial Cartoonist Thomas Nast: Anti-Irish, Anti-Catholic Bigot?
  88. "Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show", New York Times. September 5, 2015.
  90. [10]
  91. [11]
  96. Was George Orwell an Anti-Semite?, Anshel Pfeffer, Forward, August 4, 2012
  100. See the Wikipedia article on John Pilger.
  101. Journalist John Pilger says ex-Russian spy poisoning case is a 'carefully constructed drama in which the media plays a role', Press Gazette, Mar 20, 2018
  105. James Randi#The dark side of Randi
  106. Facebook post by Tali David (including a screenshot)
  108. [12]
  111. Russell, Bertrand A. W. (1969). The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1944-1969. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 289-301. 
  112. New ScientistBurt Rutan: The maverick of Mojave
  113. [13]
  114. [14]
  115. S. 852 (113th): Veterans' Health Promotion Act of 2013,
  117. He kept saying and still claims that he is a democratic socialist, while he is really a social democrat.
  120. Shelbourne, Mallory (November 7, 2019). "Schumer applauds Trump on moving US Embassy to Jerusalem" (in en). TheHill. 
  123. Is It Funny and/or Offensive?
  124. Proof of Jon Stewart Being a Raging Ableist
  125. Jon Stewart cursed me out: I dared question a "Daily Show" warm-up comic's racist jokes
  126. Open Letter To Jon Stewart
  127. Link to where he is bashing on children with Down Syndrome and parents that have those children:
  128. Check for yourself how subjective this review is:
  129. Maclean’s, Nov 1, 2011
  130. Socrates' criticism of democracy, Encyclopædia Britannica
  137. "The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children" - UNICEF
  138. "UN staff accused of raping children in the Sudan" - The Telegraph
  146. [15]
  147. Alice Walker under fire for praise of 'antisemitic' David Icke book, The Guardian, 17 Dec 2018